Hi, Lisa here again with another educational video – this time I’m talking about one of my favorite topics which is intellectual property. It’s also an incredibly complex topic and there is no way I could even remotely adequately cover it in a minute and a half or so but this is gonna be a super high level overview that hopefully will at least give you enough information that you can then go to the appropriate attorney to help you and ask all the right questions.
What is IP
IP means intellectual property and that can be anything in your business from your trade secrets, your brand, confidential information, invention, designs, written materials, digital media. It is one of, if not the most, valuable assets of your business so it’s really important that you correctly and completely protect it. There are various ways to do that which depend entirely on what the IP is.
How to protect IP
The easiest way to protect any IP is to keep it secret. Trade secrets, the best to keep your IP safe and secure, but probably the least practical because you often need to share it at least internally with staff, maybe externally with vendors and sometimes IP is outward facing your customers so certainly keeping that secret is impossible. Think about the content on your website, you can’t keep that secret.
When your IP is a trade secret that you’re trying to protect, think of the recipe for Coca Cola. You can limit sharing to a “need to know” basis. (I think there are two people that know the recipe.) And then anyone who sees the information you ask them to sign a nondisclosure agreement.
If your IP is outward facing, what do you do? Think about your website, any content that you create and put on your website has copyright already attached to it. Copyrights automatically arise and belong to the creator when the work is made. So you can put your copyright notice on your website and that sort of alerts the world that this is yours. If you really want to strengthen your copyright interests, you can file for federal copyright protection which then gives you access to the federal court system and statutory damages, which means you might not even have to prove actual monetary loss to recover damages.
Trademarks & Service Marks
Trademarks and service marks, business owners love these and rightly so. It certainly adds to the value for your business. Who doesn’t like to see that little R in the circle after their logo? The way you do this is two ways. One is you can file for the protection within your state, that’s when you are only using a “TM.” It’s a simple process, typically inexpensive, but it only protects your logo or service to the borders of the state.
If you want the protection throughout the entire country, and even possibly internationally, you need to file an application with the USPTO, which is the US Patent and Trademark Office. Now I am a big fan of DIY legal, obviously. However, federal trademark applications seem on the surface to be very simple, but they are incredibly nuanced and I highly recommend that you hire an experienced trademark attorney to assist you with the application process.
The last thing that you can do to protect your IP is to protect your inventions and designs by getting a patent. Again this is governed by the US Patent and Trademark Office. There are experienced pattern attorneys who actually have to take a separate bar exam to be able to file applications with the trademark office on behalf of clients. It’s a highly specialized area of law and it is also an incredibly nuanced application process. So again, not really something I suggest as a DIY project. But it’s good for 20 years, once you have completed it and after that the information in the patent becomes part of the public domain. So, a conversation about the value, cost and investment is certainly warranted before russing into patent protection.
Hopefully this very, very brief quick overview will at least allow you to ask the right questions as you move on to protect your business’s IP.